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England in a spin

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Pitch_turning_cricket_home_away_spinIt takes blood and sweat for any overseas team to win a Test match in Asia nowadays. The task becomes almost impossible when they are up against a quality spin-bowling side, like India, and the non-Asian side have a history of succumbing to quality spin bowling units. However, England has produced miraculous performances in the past and will be looking forward to repeat their good performances on their upcoming tour of India, even though the task won’t be as easy this time.

The last time England toured India, in 2012, they surprised everyone beating the Asian giants 2-1 in a four-match Test series. The series began as expected, with India thrashing them in the first Test at Ahmedabad by 9 wickets. The Indian spin duo of Pragyan Ojha and Ravichandran Ashwin picked up 12 wickets between them. England had made the amateur mistake of fielding only one specialist spinner, Graeme Swann, who picked up six out of the nine Indian wickets that fell in that match. It was a track tailor-made for spinners and England paid for their mistake of not fielding that extra specialist spinner.

However, England rectified their mistake quickly as they fielded another specialist spinner, Monty Panesar, in the next Test at Mumbai. Panesar turned out to be the trump card for England as he wreaked havoc on India with his left-arm slow. The duo of Swann and Panesar ripped apart the Indian batting line-up in that match as well as the following matches at Kolkata and Nagpur. Swann and Panesar emerged among the top three wicket takers in that series as England turned their fortunes around to prove to the world that no one is invincible.

England’s success in that tour should not be attributed only to the success of the spinners, but also to skipper Alastair Cook who was adjudged ‘Man of the Series’ for his exceptional batting performances against a world class spin bowling attack. Besides, the experience of other batsmen, like Ian Bell and Matt Prior, also came in handy and the world class seamers Stuart Broad and James Anderson didn’t let the pressure off with their tight bowling.

However, time doesn’t stop for anyone. Bell, Prior, Swann and Panesar are no longer in the international fold and the present English side is relatively inexperienced compared to the team that toured in 2012. Only Cook, Anderson and Broad have stood the Test of time to add some experience to this talented and young English side, while Steven Finn, Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow all played a match each.

With Anderson already ruled out of the series, they have been rendered further toothless. They may have won the first Test of the recently concluded series against Bangladesh somehow, but was the victory convincing at all? No! Cook didn’t look half the player that he used to be against spin four years back. England lost six of their wickets in the first innings to rookie spinner Mehedi Hasan Miraz and again five in the second innings to Shakib-Al-Hasan.

England is lacking the experience needed in their batting line-up to deal with the Asian conditions and spinners. Joe Root has been their premier batsman across all formats in recent times; he will need to step up with some good performances to inspire the other players in the team to perform well.  

As far as India is concerned, they are firing on all cylinders at the moment with the confidence of a 3-0 whitewash over New Zealand behind them. The good form of their skipper Virat Kohli with the bat and their premier bowler Ravichandran Ashwin with the ball makes them far more intimidating to their opponents.

Ashwin is not the same bowler that he was four years back. He is far more experienced now and is grabbing up five wicket hauls like a child gobbles up wafers. Ravindra Jadeja has improved in leaps and bounds as a bowler and his accurate line and length keeps the batsmen at bay most of the times. Moreover, India also has the versatile leg-spinner Amit Mishra to step in any time when needed. The seamers like Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and Mohammad Shami are all fit and looking good to give the English batsmen a tough time ahead.

In these circumstances, the performance of Alastair Cook with the bat becomes most important to England’s interests as he is the only batsman in the side capable of dealing with the wrath and skill of Ashwin and Jadeja. Root also needs to support his skipper well so that the rest of the batting line-up can revolve around them, adding value to their score.

As far as their bowling is concerned, this will be Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid’s first tour to India for a Test series. Although they have done well for England outside Asia, it remains to be seen if they can turn out to be effective against Indian batsmen with their spin. Seam bowlers like Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes will find it difficult to make a difference in these conditions. The onus will be on the experienced Stuart Broad to lead the fast bowling attack in absence of Anderson.

For the English bowlers to be effective, England need to put up runs on the board. They can only do that if they can stand up to the Indian spinners like a brick wall. For now, they need to sort out the batting woes that were exposed by Bangladesh’s bowling attack so that they can gain enough confidence to play against India.

 

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Prasenjit, a techie by profession and Sports writer by passion, hails from the 'City of Joy'-Kolkat...

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